How to copy and paste the contents of a Windows dialogue box

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This is so simple and so useful, I can’t believe it’s not more widely known. It would be really handy for when a client is trying to tell me what an error message says, or what the content is in some other Windows message.

Windows dialogue box


The way this comes up most of the time is this: a client gets some kind of error message that pops up on their computer, and they don’t know what it means or what to do with it. So they call me. Sometimes by the time they call, the message has disappeared on its own, or they have clicked on something and caused it to close, so they can no longer tell me what the message actually said.

Or, if the message is still on the screen, they don’t read me the exact wording – they just sort of “summarize” what it says. This doesn’t work, since their summary doesn’t necessarily include all of the critical content that could tell me what is going on.

What I need is a quick relay of ALL the actual text and what buttons are available to click. What most people don’t realize is that you can do that with a simple copy and paste.

To show how it works, I’ll use a dialogue box that I created:

Windows dialogue box


When you see something like that come up on your Windows computer screen, here’s what you do:

  1. Click anywhere inside the box – EXCEPT on any of the buttons. One left click anywhere else, inside the box.
  2. Hold down the CTRL button and tap the letter C. So far, it will seem like nothing has happened because you didn’t see anything change.
  3. Open up Notepad (or any word processor program) and click CTRL + V. There it is – all the text  from the dialogue box:

Windows dialogue box


And rather than open a word processor program, you could just as easily open your email, compose a new email message and paste the content of the box right there.

The nice thing is that the copy/pasted content includes everything – the title at the top, the content of the message itself, and the names of all the buttons that are available. This way it leaves no margin for error – your tech can easily and accurately see what the dialogue box is telling you.

Of course, if someone knows how to do it, it’s possible to just take a screenshot of the dialogue box and save that image, then email that. But that’s not nearly as easy as a simple copy and paste!

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Jim MacKenzie
March 21st, 2016

Another method that I’ve had good luck with is the Snipping Tool; the only time I can’t use it is when whatever I want to copy is larger than the screen and necessitates scrolling. Other than that, it’s very easy to use in a variety of applications (such as isolating a specific small area on Google Earth).

Connie Chase
March 21st, 2016

Not sure what I am doing wrong, but this copy and pasting is not working for me at all. 🙂

Scott Johnson
March 21st, 2016

Yep, I use the snipping tool all the time for screenshots – makes it very easy.

Scott Johnson
March 21st, 2016

Hi Connie – I can do copy/paste instruction through a remote connection if you want. Just give me a call sometime and we can set that up.

Mike H
March 21st, 2016

`This does not work exactly in Linux. Rather you have to highlight the entire box by moving the mouse, -then- paste with Control-C and Control-V.

Keep up the good work.